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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: May 2012

What Makes a Work ‘Traditional’? On the Success of Nīelakaṇṭha's Mahābhārata Commentary


Preamble: The Deluge and After.

One of the first stories to attract the attention of European readers of Sanskrit literature was the account of a deluge that floods the world. In an article on comparative mythology that he wrote in 1782, Sir William Jones drew attention to a version of the story that is found in the Bhāgavatapurāṇa (Jones 1788: 230ff). In 1829, the comparative philologist Franz Bopp used a version from the Mahābhārata, and published the Sanskrit text with a German translation (Bopp 1829a; 1829b).

In the Mahābhārata version, Manu is warned by a fish of an impending deluge. The fish instructs Manu to build a boat and to go aboard with the seven sages and a collection of seeds. This Manu does. The flood comes and the boat is floated on the waters. When Manu summons him, the fish reappears and tows the boat, which enables it to weather high seas and buffeting winds. Eventually the boat is brought to dry land on a high peak of the Himālaya. Here the story ends with the revelation that the fish who has saved Manu is the deity.

The interest of the story lay in its comparative possibilities, with the Biblical account of Noah and the Flood. For Jones, the Indian flood story could confirm both the historical truth of the Biblical account, and also the theory which underlay his comparative project, that the people and ancient civilizations of the world shared a common ancestry dating from the Flood (Trautmann 1997: 28-61).

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Boundaries, Dynamics and Construction of Traditions in South Asia
  • Online ISBN: 9781843313977
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